Review: What Fatima Did. . ., Derby Theatre

Picture by Robert Day

Why would a confident, party-loving Muslim teenager, who likes nothing more than a drink and smoke with her friends abruptly choose to start wearing the hijab?

This is the question upon which Derby Theatre’s spring production hinges.

What Fatima Did… by Atiha Sen Gupta is a funny, thought-provoking drama about a group of easy-going sixth-form student friends for whom, until now, race and religion has never really been a problem. 

They have just returned to school after the summer break and the classroom is full of witty sexual banter, tall tales and laughter. That is until one of them catches a glimpse of the late-arriving Fatima – wearing a hijab.

The clever ruse that Sen Gupta deploys in her work is to never let us actually see Fatima. She is kept off-stage – a shadow behind frosted glass or a hand on a door.

What we get to experience is her friends and family talking about her and what could have motivated her to make such a decision. Is it just a joke? Surely she will still smoke and drink? Why would she want to cut herself off from her friends? 

Her single defiant gesture enables us, with the help of a spirited cast of seven; five friends, a teacher and Fatima’s mother, to explore the social tensions created by the prejudice, fear and ignorance surrounding the hijab.

The feisty, topical play directed by Sarah Brigham and produced in partnership with Tamasha Theatre, is an intriguing exploration of racial attitudes, identity and freedom of expression in multi-cultural Britain. 

The fresh, lively but direct approach of the dialogue targets a younger, diverse audience and those who were there on the first night loved it. They were engrossed from the second the action started.

The set design, sound and lighting were slick and perfect for the fast-paced production. This was producer Rafia Hussain’s first professional production and she should be proud of what the creative team achieved.

The Midlands-based actors were all superb and each had their own poignant moment but I especially enjoyed Taja Luegaezor Christian as Stacey and Rebecca McQuillan as teacher Ms Harris.

The rest of the cast were: Adeel Ali, as Mohammed Merchant; Terry Haywood, as Craig Johnson; Matthew Biddulph, as George Lewis; Alex Kapila, as Rukshana Merchant and Nimisha Odedra, as Aisha Akbari.

The creatives were: Charlotte Henery, set and costume design, Ele Munn, lighting design, James Bennett, sound design and Ian Stapleton, fight director.

The play can be seen at Derby Theatre until Saturday March 2. There will be a BSL interpreted performance on Saturday. For tickets go to http://www.derbytheatre.co.uk

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